Only 60 or so years ago, mainland China was awash in bloody political executions and famine, undergoing chaotic transformation into a brutal Marxist tyranny and relying on international charity to survive.
Today, China is the world's emerging economic superpower, holding hundreds of billions of dollars in IOUs from the United States and exploding as a cosmopolitan urban society. It also can send tremors throughout the world with every menacing gesture or trade decision.
Beginning in a spat with Japan, China has suddenly halted shipments of rare earth minerals to the United States and Europe as well as Japan, minerals indispensable in products ranging from wind turbines to missiles.
Unwisely, U.S. producers of rare earth minerals abandoned mining as too costly. Now, China has the corner on 95 percent of the world's supply.
When other nations began deferring to China's demands in the hope that it would mature into a congenial global partner, China's appetite for more simply grew. Lesser countries are sanctioned for not holding elections, for imprisoning political dissidents and banning a free press, but China is given an exemption, unquestionably because of the commercial markets and cheap labor other nations find there.
The world is now paying the price. China can roil world currency. It is emerging as a nuclear and missile power. It is a master at hacking into other nations' computer systems.
By dint of economic power and shameless threats, China also is positioning itself to force yet more concessions from the world community and thus become even more powerful.